History of Honeoye Falls: A Capsule History

By Anne Bullock, former Honeoye Falls Historian

Honeoye Falls is a friendly little village situated on the upper falls of Honeoye Creek approximately fifteen miles southeast of Rochester, New York.

The Seneca Village of Totiakton had been founded in this area. The inhabitants were housed in long houses, fashioned of logs held together by willow branches and twigs. A British explorer, Wentworth Greenhalge, coming upon the Seneca Village in 1677, estimated the population of the village to be roughly 1000. The Seneca of this area, members of the Iroquois Confederacy, were known as the “Keepers of the Western Door” and as such a most important segment of the Iroquois Six Nation League.

After the Revolutionary War, the Phelps and Gorharn Purchase made possible the sale of property to settlers wishing to come to this area. Captain Jonathan Ball purchased land which carried the “Ball Farm” label. Tiring of frontier speculation he sold 1820 acres to Zebulon Norton in 1789 for 12 1/2 cents per acre. After this land deal Captain Ball retired to his native state of Connecticut. The original deed for this property is in the safe in the Honeoye Falls Village Hall office.

The village, as we know it, was founded in 1791 by Zebulon Norton. Norton, a miller from Connecticut, was interested in the water power available at the site of the falls. In 1791, after building a home for his family, he erected a grist mill at the top of the falls and a saw mill on the opposite bank of the creek.

Almost immediately a village flourished and was known as Norton’s Mills. A bridge was built in 1810 connecting both sides of the village, making for a larger and more closely-knit community. By this time, the village was known as West Mendon. Like Rochester, this tiny community built its factories and mills along the upper and lower falls of its water supply. By 1822 a lively little hamlet with mills, stores, a school, a post office and churches had evolved.

By 1810 we find a record of James Dixon operating a grocery and general store in a building which stood on the land now occupied by the United States Post Office on West Main Street. Mr. Dixon and his brother also operated a distillery in the area in 1813. By 1815, a Mr. Wicks built a woolen mill which eventually became the property of Hiram Finch. In 1826 Mr. Elrick Smith operated a carding and custom machine factory. He sold the factory to Horace and Zenus Smith, but after a devastating fire the building was reconstructed, and under new management became the very successful Yorks Foundry. Businesses in existence in Honeoye Falls in 1821-1825 were a grist mill, a saw mill, a gun shop, a carding machine shop and an ashery. There were also two blacksmith shops, a cooper’s shop, a shoe business and a carpenter. Honeoye Falls also had a constable during that period, Mrs. Bailey took jobs of weaving and the community supported a tailor shop. This was a community fast Becoming self-sufficient.

The fertile land in the area and adequate water supply foretold the production of good grain crops. Production was so abundant, with the clearing of the land, it became necessary to enlarge the Norton milling facilities in order to properly handle the grinding of the grain that poured into the mill. Three generations of Nortons ran the several mills on that site. After a succession of owners, the property was sold to Colonel Henry P. Culver, who built the stone mill in 1827 which is still standing. Not many structural changes have been made to this old building other than changing from water power to electricity and old machinery making way for the more modern. The stone foundation at the base is three feet in thickness and will probably stand for another century or more.

In March of 1838, the Village of West Mendon became incorporated and would, in the future, be known as Honeoye Falls.

Four churches were holding services in the village in those early days, establishing a sound, family-oriented community. Three of the churches built during the period 1841-1874 are still standing today, carrying on the tradition of their early founders.

Homes with varying types of architecture built in the 1830’s through the 1890’s are still lining the 9.11 miles of road within the village limits. Greek Revival, Federal, Empire and Victorian styles of architecture blend with the more contemporary style of homes on the tree shaded streets and roads. The old giving support to the new and modern with the end result a combination of dignity and charm.

By 1902, with the population of 1500 persons, a Business Directory was published showing over fifty businesses and professional services available in Honeoye Falls which included banks, drug stores, telephone companies, jewelers, dressmakers, hotels, meat markets and eight grocery stores.

Careful planning throughout the years has allowed the village to grow and prosper. The businesses have changed with the times and in scope, making Honeoye Falls a truly progressive but community-minded village. Today the community boasts of an excellent Central School system with, several churches, an efficient fire department, modern ambulance facilities, light industrial plants, and a variety of stores and businesses to serve the needs of the population. The many civic organizations of the area reflect the varied interests of the people of the village.

Honeoye Falls is a village within the Town of Mendon, but with its own governing body of a mayor and four trustees, elected at regular intervals. This form of government makes for responsible and accountable leadership of local residents.

In September of 1993 the State of New York placed an area of the Village on the State Register of Historic Places. On November 24, 1993 the Historic Area of Honeoye Falls was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Certificate of these designations can be viewed in the Village Hall at 5 East Street.